- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The D.C. Council voted 9-4 Tuesday to recommend censuring and stripping council member Marion Barry of a committee assignment as a result of his failure to disclose cash gifts from city contractors.

The rebuke comes after the District’s ethics board fined Mr. Barry $13,600 in July for failing to disclose $6,800 in cash he received from two contractors and an ad-hoc council committee recommended that his oversight of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs be taken away.

“We have a responsibility to hold our colleagues responsible when their actions run afoul with the rules,” said council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, who headed the ad-hoc committee.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson will have to make a formal recommendation to remove Mr. Barry from his post and to reassign his position, measures that will require another council vote but that he expects to take before the beginning of October.

“We are going to be judged in this action in how we are judging a colleague’s conduct,” Mr. Mendelson cautioned members before the vote.

Mr. Barry acknowledged earlier this year in financial disclosure forms that he received $2,800 from Forney Enterprises Inc. and $4,000 from the owner of F&L Construction. Council members, who are tasked with approving contracts worth more than $1 million, are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from businesses with city contracts.

But some on the council tried to lessen the blow to Mr. Barry, arguing that the fines imposed by the District’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability were stiff enough.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, at large Democrat, made motions to reduce Mr. Barry’s council-sanctioned punishment, introducing amendments to both stop the removal of Mr. Barry’s committee assignment and to reprimand rather than censure him.

“You fight the fight,” Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said afterward of his protests during Tuesday’s council session.

Mr. Barry, a former four-term mayor, spent six months in jail in the 1990s after he was convicted of a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge while in office. The 77-year-old council member was also censured by his council colleagues in 2010 after a report said he violated conflict-of-interest rules in handing a contract to a former girlfriend.

The contractors who gave Mr. Barry the cash both had business before the council, but the ethics board noted there was no evidence their gifts were given in exchange for favors. Forney Enterprises had a $1.8 million construction contract for work at a D.C. elementary school that came to a council vote this year and F&L Construction had a $3.4 million contract with the Department of Public Works beginning in July 2012.

Keith Forney, the owner of Forney Enterprises, gave money to Mr. Barry after hearing from the council member that he was experiencing financial difficulties as a result of an Internal Revenue Service lien, the committee report states. At one point the pair met at Mr. Forney’s other business — the Ward 5 strip club the Stadium Club — and handed over the cash.

Prior to receiving the rebuke from his colleagues, Mr. Barry opted to recuse himself from a vote on a contract involving Parkinson/Grunley Community Builders. Mr. Barry did not elaborate on the reason for his recusal, but generally cited a conflict or potential conflict with the vendor as his reason.

“I’ve said all I can say,” Mr. Barry said. “I’m being super cautious.”

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